How not to Order a Lobster Roll in Boston
Remind me not to be a detective. I was in Boston last week on a business trip and was determined to try a lobster roll. As a fan of our own Smack Shack, I wanted to see how the original compares. So leaving the National Park tour of the Boston Harbor Islands (highly recommended) I wandered past Faneuil Hall into a restaurant called The Purple Shamrock. There was a chalk sign out front advertising a lobster roll for $15.00. The sign next to it, that I didn’t see until I left, advertised a special on Coors Light for $1.00. This should have been my first clue.
My second clue should have been that there was no bartender for about 15 minutes. Wandering back toward the door, I’d asked if I could in fact order food at the bar, mentioning I’d been sitting there for awhile. Finally, a buxom bottle blonde showed up scattered and sweaty. To my left were two middle aged men who worked for the City of Boston in the copy center and the coffee shop, respectively. They weren’t much interested in civics or how the history of Boston was integral to founding our democracy, but they were kind. To my right was a batchelor party who hailed mainly from Canada and Florida- the lucky groom got free shots.
That should have been my third clue. No one else at the bar was eating. Still, I sipped a fresh, clean, hoppy Sam Adams White Ale anticipating a distinctive Boston lobster roll experience. The roll arrived in what appeared to be a hot dog bun with a side of goopy New England clam chowder and a small bag of oyster crackers. The chowder was better than Campbell’s in that the clams were meatier, but that was about it. The lobster roll was tasteless with little texture- no big juicy pieces or even the crisply subtle saline marine taste one expects from fresh lobster. This may be something my lutefisk eating relatives of Scandinavian descent (of which I am one- but unlike many of them I don’t consider black pepper too spicy) would appreciate- a plate of all white food with no discernible flavor.
Later that evening I told a woman that I’d stopped at the Purple Shamrock for a lobster roll for lunch. She said, “Oh, I think of that as a place where college students go to get really drunk.” Well, that would explain the batchelor party at 11:30am. When I told my sister in law, who lived in Boston during college and whose legendary ability to let loose may be attributable to her northern Minnesotan dairy farm roots that I ate at a place called The Purple Shamrock, she said, “Oh yeah, I partied there but didn’t eat a speck of food. Not a speck. On purpose.”
The strange thing is, I am a woman who does her food homework. I plan vacations around food. I mapped an entire Napa Valley/ Marin County trip around Cowgirl Creamery, Bouchon, and the taco truck in Bodega Bay. My lame excuse is that I was working, tired, and on an expense account. Having asked around after the fact, random Bostonians told me the Union Oyster House and Legal Seafood, both within a block or two of where I was, have wonderful world class lobster rolls. I’ve learned an important lesson: do your homework. But I can also say that asking strangers about a good lobster roll starts a lot of interesting conversations. The Bostonians I met were funny, kind, and proud of their city. So maybe I did have an authentic Boston lobster roll experience after all.